Senior quarterback Jeff Avery threw for 382 yards and three touchdowns as the Engineers rolled over the United States Merchant Marine Academy Mariners by a score of 27-7 on Reunion & Homecoming Weekend.
The Rensselaer defense set the tone early by plugging the rushing lanes of the Mariners’ option-read rushing attack. After the Mariners went three and out on their first possession, Rensselaer marched 76 yards down the field and sophomore kicker Christian Kapp drilled a 20-yard field goal to make the score 3-0 RPI.
After the go-ahead field goal, RPI senior linebacker Anthony Pilla made a big open field tackle on 3rd and four to force a second Merchant Marine punt. Then, on the next play Avery found senior running back Matt Lane on a crossing route for a gain of 53 yards down to the Mariners’ 14-yard line. After a penalty pushed the Engineers back to the Merchant Marine 40, Avery found senior wide receiver Logan Gaddar open near the sideline for a gain of 29 yards down to the Mariners 3. But, poised to score, the Engineers fumbled and the Mariners recovered.
A missed field goal by RPI and another forced fumble by the Mariners inside their own twenty kept the score at 3-0. With less than two minutes remaining in the first half, Pilla came up big again, forcing Merchant Marine running back Devar Jones to fumble. The ball was recovered by sophomore defensive lineman Diego Cuitino at the Mariners 31 with 1:10 left in the first half.
Senior running back Nick Schlatz ran for 12 yards to the Mariners 19. Then, two plays later, Avery threw to an open Gaddar for an 11-yard touchdown pass to give RPI a 10-0 lead.
After both squads failed to get a first down on their opening drives of the second half, Rensselaer found its rhythm midway through the third quarter. Starting with the ball at the Merchant Marine 45 after a 29-yard punt, Avery hit Lane out of the backfield for a pickup of 11 and a first down. Then, on 3rd and eight, Avery scrambled, eluding several tacklers, and found Gaddar open in the flat near the right sideline. Gaddar did the rest, beating his pursuers to the end zone for a 33-yard touchdown.
Quarterback Matt McDaniels powered through the Rensselaer line on two consecutive 4th and ones and lead the Mariners to the RPI 25. But the drive stalled on 4th and four when the Engineers snuffed out a fake pitch and forced McDaniels out of bounds for a loss of one.
Late in the third, Avery hit sophomore running back Nick Esposito on a short crossing route and Esposito scampered down the sideline for a gain of 30. Then sophomore running back Ethan Wells broke through the Merchant Marine front line on a run past the left side for a gain of 10. Later, at the beginning of the fourth, Kapp tacked on three more points to the Engineers lead, bringing the score to 20-0.
The Mariners took advantage of a 33-yard burst by running back Robert Moore to score their first and last points of the afternoon, a two-yard run by running back Wiley Martin.
After a 31-yard kick return by sophomore running back Johnny Ramsdell, Gaddar tallied his third receiving touchdown of the game, a career high, to give the Engineers a 27-7 lead.
Gaddar’s third score was the last of the afternoon for either squad and Rensselaer won in convincing fashion, 27-7. In addition to his three touchdowns, Gaddar caught five additional passes and totaled 131 yards to lead all receivers.
The Engineers struggled in the running game, amassing just 105 yards off their 32 carries. Schlatz led all RPI rushers with 39 yards on the ground. The Mariners didn’t fare any better, rushing 59 times for 191 yards. The difference was passing yardage. While Avery threw for 382, McDaniels managed just 55 yards on five of 15 throwing.
Junior defensive lineman Thomas Bennett led all defenders with 15 tackles and also registered a sack, his first of the season. Meanwhile, Pilla and junior linebacker Alexander Greenidge each tallied 14, including one and a half sacks for Pilla and one for Greenidge.
Next up for the now 4-1 Engineers is a trip north to 4-1 St. Lawrence this weekend. St. Lawrence has won four in a row heading in, including a 20-0 shutout of the University of Rochester last Saturday.